War refuser's dad explains son's reasons
Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Bob Watada is proud of his newly famous, and infamous, son. And he's making 26 public appearances this week to tell Bay Area audiences why.
The son is said to be the Army's first commissioned officer to refuse to go to Iraq, on the grounds that he's bound to disobey orders to fight in an illegal war.
Both lauded and vilified in columns and letters to editors around the country, 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, faces a possible seven years in prison. Following a hearing last week, the Army's investigating officer in the case recommended Tuesday that he be court-martialed.
His refusal has prompted support rallies in San Francisco's Japantown, Berkeley, his hometown of Honolulu and outside Fort Lewis in Washington state where he's based, while many veterans have denounced his stance.
And being Japanese American, Watada has touched a sensitive nerve among Japanese Americans who recall how military sacrifice was seen as proof of their loyalty during the ordeals of World War II.
"It's scraped the scab off an old wound that has never healed," Japanese American Citizens League member Andy Noguchi said in a column last week in the Nichi Bei Times, a Japanese American paper based in San Francisco that has featured extensive coverage and commentary on the case.
World War II saw the upheaval and internment of Japanese Americans, the sacrifice of Japanese American soldiers who suffered extraordinarily high casualties and the ostracism of the internees who refused to fight in the U.S. military.
Bob Watada sees a big difference between World War II and Iraq.
"There's a lot of people who don't know what's going on in Iraq," the father said in an interview. "There's no doubt about it. It's illegal. It violates the Constitution. ... The president lied, outright lied to the people, and to Congress, about why we're in Iraq."
Lt. Watada argues he is obliged -- under precedents established in the Nuremberg war-crimes trials -- to refuse illegal orders, in this case to support what he sees as an illegal invasion. Watada, who could not be reached for comment, has said he would be willing to serve in Afghanistan.
He refused to depart with his unit, the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, when it left Fort Lewis on June 22. The Army charged him with "missing movement" for his refusal to go to Iraq and accused him of contempt toward officials and of conduct unbecoming an officer because of his public comments, such as allegedly criticizing the war as morally wrong and accusing President Bush of lying.
The Army also cited his alleged comment, "I was shocked and at the same time ashamed that Bush had planned to invade Iraq before the 9/11 attacks. How could I wear this horrible uniform now knowing we invaded a country for a lie?"
The Army is now reviewing the recommendation for a court-martial.
"To my knowledge, he's the first commissioned officer to back away from his commitment (by refusing to deploy to Iraq)," said Army spokesman Sheldon Smith at the Pentagon. Nor do Army officials know of any soldier of any rank who has disobeyed Iraq deployment orders for the reason asserted by Watada, Smith said.
Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Hitt said Watada is currently assigned to administrative tasks on base and free to come and go.
Watada's father, who retired in December as executive director of Hawaii's election-spending watchdog agency, the Campaign Spending Commission, said his son heeded Bush's call to join the war on terrorism and entered the military in March 2003, the same month the United States invaded Iraq. He began active duty in June that year, after graduating from Hawaii Pacific University.
The son discovered only later that Saddam Hussein's alleged ties to Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction were myths, the father said.
Among his most vocal critics are Japanese American veterans such as Robert Wada, charter president of Japanese American Korean War Veterans. Wada of Fullerton (Orange County) said in a Nichi Bei Times column this week that he was relaying "the opinion of many veterans that Watada is bringing shame to the Japanese American veterans who willingly served and valiantly fought in all of America's wars."
"My brother, Ehren's uncle, was killed in Korea," said Bob Watada. "He's very proud of his uncle, very proud of the vets who fought and died for their country. They fought for the Constitution. ... That's the same Constitution he's fighting to support."
Lt. Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz of Honolulu, said there's a "100 percent" chance of the case going to court-martial, probably in November or December.
Although many war critics have challenged the legal basis of the Iraq war, Seitz said he is not aware of any court rulings on the legality.
E-mail Charles Burress at firstname.lastname@example.org.